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Published June 12 2013

Forum editorial: An abuse of power by majority

In what looks to be an abuse of power simply because they have the power, North Dakota Republican legislative leaders shut out Democrats from interim committee leadership roles. No Democrat will serve as chairman or vice chairman of an interim committee during the time between the recently concluded 2013 session and the 2015 session.

The total freezing out of Democrats is new. It comes as a result of a change instituted by then Legislative Management Chairman Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo. The House majority leader cut the number of chairmanships, thereby reducing opportunities for Democrats to serve. During the 2009-11 interim, Democrats chaired eight of 26 interim committees. By the 2011-13 interim, Carlson’s machinations resulted in only one Democrat in a committee chair. The haughty process apparently is now complete, with no Democrats in interim committee leadership posts.

The stunt not only is an arrogant misuse of majority power, it’s also counterproductive, in that the mix of issues considered by interim committees likely will be more like bland porridge than a spicy soup of debate and competing ideas that always makes for better government.

The leadership issue is important because interim committee chairmen and vice chairmen set agendas. If it’s a one-party show, an initiative by a minority party committee member likely won’t see the light of day if a majority chairman doesn’t like it. One consequence of stacking committee leadership is squelching voices of legislators who, though in the minority, represent sizeable segments of North Dakota’s population.

What makes the Republican power play even more objectionable is that work during the interim should be – and has been – bipartisan or nonpartisan as lawmakers studied issues that might be presented to an upcoming legislative session. Until the Carlson changes, it’s been a good process that has been fair to the minority, rather than closed to proposals and initiatives that don’t conform to the majority’s agenda.

Instead of being gracious and statesmanlike, the Legislature’s majority party leaders have happily embraced the unattractive role of bully. Instead of exercising the power of the majority with care and consideration for legitimate minority views, Republican leaders have been dismissive and disdainful of their Democratic colleagues. That kind of imperious behavior eventually will come around and bite them in the butt.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.